By Anthony Dylan

Time flies. Yes, I am sure many of you would have heard this phrase for countless times. I left 2021 with finally being home for Christmas. It was also the first time without my father and things were just not the same. Nevertheless, remembering those who passed and celebrating their life helped with the emotional transition. I allowed myself to grieve until 31 December 2021 and believed that he would have wanted me to go on with life.

It has not been easy balancing the events of 2021 but 2022 is a new chapter. Many of my ex-classmates and university mates like me are heading towards the greying years soon. Much has been accomplished no matter how big they were.

I cannot believe that I have been in the shopping centre industry since 1996. It has been a rather interesting 25 years. Ironically, I never liked shopping centres when I was in college. The only thing I liked was the ability to play games at the arcades. The downside was the lingering cigarette smells on your clothes and the explanation to your parents that you did not smoke.

Much has changed since the time I joined the shopping centre industry. I remembered the first day of work. It was quite a culture shock as everyone seemed to think that working in the industry was glamorous and a ticket to meeting the popular folk. They could be the media, fashion show organizers, DJs, TV or Radio hosts, clowns, magicians and even fashion designers. Those who helmed the development of fashion brand expansion also seemed to dress their brand. You could say that they really embraced what they represent. Today, this is no longer the case as many would not understand how retail work and neither do they understand what real estate means.

Back then in the 90s and early 2000s, there were not many shopping centres in Klang Valley. The main hub centered around the Bukit Bintang area. Nightlife would surround the outer layer where the shopping hub is. Fashion shows and celebrity appearances would be the main attractions. This would include even tourism launches for Malaysia and states. The buzz of DJs spinning music for fashion shows and thereafter playing ambient music throughout the day was normal. They also functioned as announcers for promotions throughout the day during weekends as well as game hosts.

I remembered we had to learn what is needed to create a T stage for fashion shows and the type of material to be used for the stage. This was important as fashion shows cannot afford slips and trips. The type of lightings and the placement of the feedback speakers and speakers were equally important.

Each festive season, redemption programs became the main weapon for inducing spending. It could be as simple as redeeming a can of sardines to a special edition mug. What mattered were inducements to spend more. So, choosing the redemption item almost always required a test with the common folk before deciding. We had no Google to check nor Facebook to evaluate then.

I also remembered that meetings ran past 7pm near the launch of festive events as decisions needed to be made on the set ups. Prior to that, creative agencies came with visual boards and samples. Today, they bring a laptop and some funky 3D to present. Yet, in those days, the level of detail each setup went through I dare say surpasses today. Maybe because they had more passion then to delight versus today when everything is just print and cut.

In the 90s, we had to work from 9am till 5pm on weekdays and 9am till 1pm on Saturdays. Everyone in the typical work regime had similar timings. The Government changed this in the later years to a 5 day week from the typical 5.5 day week to help spur local tourism. It also meant that shopping centres had a full 2 day weekend.

Department stores were a big thing in the 80s and 90s. However, today they are not. They are still an integral part of the shopping centre mix but are no longer the sole driver of traffic. Amusement areas in shopping centres were a huge attraction in the 90s too. Arcade centres which had joystick games and race simulators became the rage. We even had roller skating discos and later on, extreme sports centres for skateboarders and BMX riders placed in shopping centres.Β  This further evolved into badminton and futsal courts. Ice skating rinks also appeared.

Shopping centres in the 90s at least were the place to meet. Arrangements would be made days before or via paid phone booth or home phone calls. I dare say that everyone then would keep to their appointment time and get worried if the arranged time surpasses 10 minutes. Today, it is not the case.

Food courts were the place to go for affordable eats and you are sure to get stalls having tasty fare. International fast food choices were limited to a few burger and fried chicken players.

The 90s and 2000s were the two decades of jeans and music. Hair stylists could even draw a crowd on stage with a sponsored product. People would line up to get an autograph and a picture with their celebrity or idol. Name cards were a precious commodity. It is as if a form of proof of your status of knowing who.

Twenty five years is a long time if you started not liking shopping centres and beginning from the bottom. Having to go through being a photocopy boy despite graduating from a University in Australia was a humbling experience. I have seen so many changes and experienced them head on. The financial crisis of 1997 was the biggest shock the industry had until Covid 19 began in 2020.

I do not regret joining the shopping centre industry and trying my hand at crafting the education syllabus for the association when given the chance. Looking at how marketing and leasing had evolved throughout the years; I would say that it would get tougher only if you do not understand the basic fact that you cannot force the customer to like you. You have to provide for them what they need and aspire. The management of a shopping centre is not easy. It is a recurring effort where there are many sides not within control. Being able to anticipate and act quickly are key.

It is Chinese New Year on 1st February 2022. Let us hope for a braver Tiger year for all of us to change things for the better. Life is what you make it out to be.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!